What IS that heavenly body?

Any astronomers out there, amateur or otherwise? I feel really stupid asking this question — in earlier centuries, any educated person would have known the answer to this, but in our light-polluted modern era, we take too little note of the heavens — but I'm going to ask it anyway. After all, the valedictorian of my high school class used to ask the stupidest questions I ever heard — our physics teacher's jaw would actually drop with incredulity — but those of us who were too cool to ask dumb questions didn't get to be valedictorian. (My wife says her class valedictorian, her friend Mary, was the same way. And look at her today; she has a giant flat-screen HDTV and I don't.)

Where was I? Oh yes — what in the 'verse is that superbig, superbright, object in the sky at about 30 degrees elevation, a little south of west as of 8 p.m. Eastern? Is it Mars? Venus? Some other planet, that has just wandered closer than usual? (I'm thinking Mars, because it seems to have a bit more of an orangish cast than the other, far less bright, stars and planets.)

It's the biggest, brightest thing I can ever remember seeing in the sky aside from the sun and moon.

Who can tell me what it is?

20 thoughts on “What IS that heavenly body?

  1. p.m.

    I told you the aliens were coming. Looks like they’re here a few weeks early. Here’s hoping those analog TV signals will neutralize the threat.

  2. Lee Muller

    Venus, Mars and Jupiter are all visible in the early night sky. Last night was especially clear.
    This is the last time they will all be this close together and to the Earth for quite a while. Get to a telescope, go out into the country, and take a look.

  3. KP

    Aww, leave Lee alone. He’s being helpful this time, and it could even be that he’s right. Let’s give it to him.

  4. Lee Muller

    When you see some of the really bright objects in the sky, it is actually a conjunction of two or more planets – an alignment so they appear together from our vantage point on Earth.
    There was a terrific one on Dec 21, 2008.
    Several more coming soon, in the early morning:
    * February 23, 2009: Moon, Jupiter, Mercury and Mars
    * February 25, 2009: Jupiter, Mercury and Mars
    * April 23, 2009: Moon, Venus and Mars

  5. bud

    I’ll mark February 23 on my calendar. Sounds like quite an event.
    Brad, you’re probably seeing Venus. It’s by far the brightest heavenly body other than the sun, moon and Marisa Tomei.

  6. Capital A

    Marisa Tomei’s beauty can turn gay guys straight? I’m sure the Republican party has top men researching that effect.
    Top men.

  7. Brad Warthen

    I appreciate Lee trying to help, but I still don’t have a specific answer to my specific question, and I’m still mystified.
    The last couple of nights at about 8 p.m. About 25-30 degrees elevation. Closer to West than to West-Southwest (although I had no compass). Really, really bright — by far the most noticeable thing in the sky. Slight orangeish tint, compared to the relative whiteness of the much-dimmer stars. Which argues Mars, but I don’t know. Isn’t Jupiter kind of reddish (although really far away)?
    I’m really ignorant in this area.

  8. bud

    It’s Venus Brad. Nothing else is that bright. If you see Mars you’ll know the difference. It’s a much more pronounced shade of red than what you describe. And Mars never gets that bright.

  9. Bart

    Capital A, Marisa Tormei? I’m not gay but am more than willing to volunteer for any research effort to help the cause. 🙂 🙂

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